Posts by: Matin Durrani

What technologies do you love the most?

By Matin Durrani

Here at Physics World, we’ve had a regular programme of videos since 2009, when I led the way into a brave new multimedia world by interviewing the director-general of CERN Rolf-Dieter Heuer. What Heuer had to say was pretty interesting and the question-and-answer format is a common genre among  online videos, but I have to admit that a film of two guys talking to each other while sitting on chairs in an office isn’t the most riveting thing you could ever watch. Even if the chairs were at CERN and one was occupied by the boss of one of the world’s top physics labs.

Since those early days, Physics World has developed and diversified its multimedia efforts, thanks in part to the ideas and inspiration of my colleague James Dacey, who has the rather grand job title of multimedia projects editor. Our content now includes a rolling programme of video documentaries, our 100-second-science strand and even an animation.

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Five amazing physics demonstrations

By Matin Durrani

Even if you’re a hardcore theoretical physicist, I’m sure you’ll agree that experiments are the lifeblood of physics. After all, theory and experiment go hand in hand – and there’s nothing to beat getting your hands dirty to get a proper understanding of the subject.

But how can pupils and students get excited about experiments? Making practical work a key part of exam syllabuses is surely important – yet the danger then is experimental work becomes a chore not a charm.

If you need inspiration, check out the April issue of Physics World magazine, which is now out in print and digital formats. It contains a great feature by Neil Downie – head of sensors at Air Products, Basingstoke, Hampshire, UK and a Royal Academy of Engineering visiting professor at the University of Surrey.

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Was Bruno Pontecorvo a spy?

Frank Close (centre) speaking at Prospect magazine HQ on 12 March 2015

Reflecting on – Frank Close (centre) discusses the life of the Italian physicist Bruno Pontecorvo, who defected to the Soviet Union in 1950.

By Matin Durrani

Like all good publications, Prospect has a strapline about itself – “the leading magazine of ideas”. Physics World is also about ideas, although sadly our magazine, great though it is, doesn’t have adverts for Cartier watches, Embraer executive jets or the Taj Exotica Resort & Spa in the Maldives as Prospect does. Clearly, some people with ideas have more money to spend than others.

I was kindly invited last week by the deputy editor of Prospect, Jay Elwes, to an event he hosted at the magazine’s headquarters in central London. The event featured the University of Oxford physicist Frank Close, who has just published a new book on the life and times of Bruno Pontecorvo. Close was on hand to discuss the key themes of the book, which is entitled Half Life: the Divided Life of Bruno Pontecorvo. Elwes described the attendees as a “small, high-powered group”, including as it did Pauline Neville Jones, the former chair of the UK’s Joint Intelligence Committee and Jonathan Evans, the former director-general of the British security service MI5.

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Your secret superpower

By Matin Durrani

The March 2015 issue of Physics World magazine, a special issue about light in our lives that is now out in print, online and via our apps, contains a fascinating feature about an astonishing – and largely unknown – superpower that you perhaps don’t realize you have. It might sound bizarre, but using your naked eyes – and with no additional gadgets whatsoever – you can detect whether or not light is “polarized”. And in the video above, Louise Mayor, features editor of Physics World, tells you how.

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Louise Mayor bags European astronomy journalism prize

Andrew Taylor, Executive Director of the National Laboratories at STFC congratulates the winner of the European Astronomy Journalism Prize 2014. (Courtesy: ESO/STFC)

Andrew Taylor of the Science and Technology Facilities Council congratulates Louise Mayor on winning the European Astronomy Journalism Prize 2014. (Courtesy: ESO/STFC)

By Matin Durrani

If you think that writing a great feature article about physics is easy, think again. You want something that’s pitched at the right level for the audience. You’ve got to avoid jargon and explain technical terms where necessary. You can’t go on and on – you’re not trying to rewrite Wikipedia.

Most importantly, you need to tell a good story and say something new, different and intriguing. And remember, your readers could switch off at any point, so the article has to be well written, flow well from point to point, have plenty of colour and, ideally, have some pay-off or punch-line at the end. No point just trailing off into nothingness. Oh, and good pictures, headlines and captions are a must.

So I’m sure you’ll join me in congratulating my colleague Louise Mayor – features editor of Physics World magazine – who has won this year’s European Astronomy Journalism Prize for an article she wrote for the October 2014 edition of the magazine. Her winning article is entitled “Hunting gravitational waves using pulsars” and looks at efforts to detect gravitational waves using radio telescopes to observe distant pulsars.

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The February 2015 issue of Physics World magazine is now out

By Matin Durrani

It’s now more than 40 years since the last person set foot on the Moon, but since then we’ve come to realize that the lunar surface is not only home to plenty of rare-earth elements, such as lanthanum and neodynium, but also to more than a billion tonnes of water-ice at the poles. Several US firms in fact have bold plans to mine those resources, as the cover story of the February issue of Physics World magazine makes clear.

One idea is to electrolyse the water into hydrogen and oxygen that could be used as a fuel source for operations on the Moon. Even more boldly, the water ice could be shipped to low Earth orbit, where it could be used to fuel space craft sent up from Earth. To find out more about whether those plans are realistic, do check out the February issue, which is now out online and through our app.

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Royal approval for the International Year of Light

Duke of York tries on NPL glasses at UK launch of the International Year of Light 28 January 2015

Seeing the future: HRH The Duke of York at the UK launch of the International Year of Light at St James’s Palace. (Courtesy: Paul Burns)

By Matin Durrani

And so last night to St James’s Palace in London and the official UK launch of the International Year of Light and Light-based Technologies (IYL 2015). The building, which belongs to the British monarchy and has a long history as a royal residence, might sound a rather grand venue for the event – but when HRH The Duke of York is the patron for IYL 2015 in the UK, then who wouldn’t take up his invitation to host the opening reception for the year?

The evening began with a short speech from the Duke of York, who said that he had always had an interest in physics despite not having taken it as a single subject at school – and that he was “right behind” all the activities taking place in the IYL 2015. “The International Year of Light is about how we have used light over the centuries,” he told the 200 or so guests. “It is how we are applying light, photonics and various other aspects in order to make the world a better place, not only for ourselves, but for future generations.”

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Paris ushers in the International Year of Light

Photograph of the art installation "Light is Here" by Finnish artist Kari Kola projected onto UNESCO's Paris headquarters

The art installation “Light is Here” by Finnish artist Kari Kola projected onto UNESCO’s Paris headquarters. (Courtesy: UNESCO/Nora Houguenade)

By Matin Durrani in Paris

It was a grey and dank morning yesterday in the French capital, with even the top of the Eiffel Tower shrouded in clouds – perhaps not the most auspicious weather for the official opening ceremony of the International Year of Light and Light-based Technologies (IYL 2015) here at the headquarters of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

Inside the conference hall, however, all was brightly lit. The stage was bathed in beams of light in all the colours of the rainbow as the 1500 or so delegates first watched an official IYL 2015 video and then listened as a series of dignitaries voiced their backing for the initiative.

These included a message of support from UN director-general Ban Ki-moon read out by an official and a video recording from Irina Bokova, UNESCO director-general. There were also speakers from Ghana, Mexico, New Zealand, Russia and Saudi Arabia – the five nations that took a key role in getting IYL 2015 approved by the UN in late 2013.

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Enjoy 10 of the best Physics World articles on light

PW-2015-01-19-blog-select-isotope

Celebrating IYL 2015 with a special free-to-read digital edition of Physics World.

By Matin Durrani

The International Year of Light (IYL 2015), which officially launches today at the headquarters of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in Paris, is a brilliant initiative, but if you’re wondering how to find out more about the science and applications of light, then I’ve got the perfect place for you to start.

That’s because Physics World magazine is launching today a great, free-to-read digital edition containing 10 of our very best feature articles on the science and applications of light.

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The January 2015 issue of Physics World is out now

 

By Matin Durrani

The first issue of Physics World magazine of 2015 is now out online and through our app.

As I outline in the video above, this issue looks at the challenges of synthesizing artificial human voices. Another feature explores the little-known Jesuits who boosted astronomy in China in the 17th century. And don’t miss our exclusive interviews with Fabiola Gianotti, who takes over from Rolf-Dieter Heuer as director-general of the CERN particle-physics lab early next year, and with Mark Levinson, the former physicist who directed the film Particle Fever about what particle physicists get up to.

We also have a fascinating feature about how you can help in understanding cosmic rays simply using your mobile phone. While most “citizen-science” projects involve people analysing data collected by “real” scientists, two new apps will let you collect data using your phone itself. Indeed, the people behind one of the apps think we’d need just 825,000 phones to gather as much data as are obtained using the Pierre Auger Observatory in Argentina.

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